Massive Seattle gear producer's sons fire all without notice, to cash out
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    Default Massive Seattle gear producer's sons fire all without notice, to cash out

    In the Seattle Times article, the owner's son, President Sterling Ramberg, says business was fine, defends lack of notice, says it was just time to cash out. The owner's other son, CEO Roland Ramberg, was on vacation and couldn't be bothered to comment. I suppose it's always easier to fire everyone from a warm tropical beach, drink in hand.

    The contract and law both require notice, but they're apparently not concerned with that.

    I did see the other post on this. It seemed to blame the union, rather than what looks more like pure greed. Nowhere in the article does it say or even imply that the shop was recently unionized. Apparently business was just fine.
    --
    Seattle maker of massive gears changes hands after seven-decade run | The Seattle Times

    After more than 70 years of building and repairing heavy industrial gears like those that raise the Ballard and Fremont drawbridges, The Gear Works closed abruptly last week, laid off all its employees and sold its equipment to a neighboring machine shop.

    By Dominic Gates, Seattle Times aerospace reporter

    The Gear Works, a family-owned company in South Park that for more than 70 years built and repaired heavy industrial gears to drive equipment such as wind turbines and power generators, folded abruptly last week and sold its assets to a neighboring machine shop.

    The company has a storied legacy of sophisticated skills. For instance, it rebuilt the ancient gearboxes that lift two of Seattle's historic drawbridges. And for a 747 jumbo jet owned by NASA, it designed and built a gearbox that could in midflight reliably open and close a massive door in the fuselage through which a telescope could observe the stars.

    Machinists Inc., located next door, bought all the machinery and gear-making equipment and has also leased the large Gear Works manufacturing building, which covers more than 100,000 square feet, more than doubling the Machinists Inc. manufacturing space.

    The employees of Gear Works were terminated, and many are now applying for job openings newly posted at Machinists Inc. Gear Works was a union shop, with 61 shop-floor employees represented by District 160 of the International Association of Machinists (IAM).

    Hugh LaBossier, president of Machinists Inc., said his company currently has about 135 employees and is interviewing for approximately 40 more.

    Despite the similarity of the name, 76-year-old Machinists Inc. is nonunion.

    Dan Morgan, directing business representative at IAM District 160, said Gear Works management did not inform its employees or the union before the closure.

    The state Employment Security Department says it, too, was not informed, though the state's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires employers to provide 60 days notice to the state and the employees either when a plant closes or when more than a third of the workforce is laid off.

    "They have obligations to their employees," said Morgan. "We are actively pursuing the issue."

    Roland Ramberg, chief executive of The Gear Works and son of its founder, was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

    His brother, Sterling Ramberg, Gear Works president, who has been appointed to spearhead sales of gearing equipment at Machinists Inc., said in an interview that the sudden closure and equipment sale weren't done out of financial distress.

    "We didn't have some impending collapse," he said. "It was just the right time for our family to turn the page, for the ages of the owners."

    He said the company recognizes that it must negotiate the effects of the closure with the union.

    "You need to negotiate severance (pay)" Ramberg said. “And we intend to do that.

    The two side-by-side companies, Machinists Inc. and Gear Works, now essentially combined into one, represent some of the most highly skilled metal-manufacturing work in this region.

    Machinists Inc. founded in 1941 by Ralph LaBossier, grandfather of the current president — designs and builds metal parts and complete manufacturing systems for the aerospace, energy, marine, research and transportation industries.

    On a tour of its facilities on Friday, workers were machining a huge variety of complex metal parts for diverse customers.

    Here were casings for Navy torpedoes.

    There was equipment destined for Boeing's Renton plant that will be used to move around the engine thrust reversers of the 737 MAX.

    Here was a part for the new General Atomics electromagnetic launch and recovery system for catapulting jet fighters from aircraft carriers and arresting them on landing.

    There was a piece of a tooling fixture for the BE-4 engine being developed by space exploration company Blue Origin.

    And a large metal tube sat outside, destined to be turned into a dummy stand-in for a jet engine for when Boeing does the wing-bend test on its forthcoming 777X.

    On Friday, Gear Works, founded in 1946 by Ingwald Ramberg, was quieter than Machinists Inc.

    The dormant machines awaited new employees to come in and revive them.

    All around the huge facility, enormous toothed disks and gearboxes sat as testament to the sophistication of the work.

    There was a 5-ton, high-speed gear for a machine that compresses industrial gas, its teeth ground to a precision within ten-thousandths of an inch.

    Here sat the truck-sized gearbox for one of the state'ss Issaquah-class ferries. Originally built in Texas, this gearbox was rebuilt here in the late 1990s, its teeth reground with modern precision to make it much quieter. It's back here now for inspection and maintenance.

    There were the tree-trunklike shafts and the detached gearbox for a giant wind turbine from one of the wind farms that dot the landscape of the West.

    Sterling Ramberg recalled some of the more memorable projects the company has undertaken over the years.

    About 10 years ago, Gear Works designed and built a rack and pinion gear system that slid open a big door in the fuselage of a specially built 747 jumbo jet while in flight.

    This was NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, the SOFIA project, the largest airborne observatory in the world.

    In the 2000s, Gear Works also retrofitted the four ancient gear boxes, each weighing 11 tons, that raised and lowered the drawbridges on both the Ballard and Fremont bridges.

    "It took early 1900s technology and transformed it into the modern era," Ramberg said.
    Marketing director Jeff Tomson points out a compressor gear made by Machinist Inc. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times) Marketing director Jeff Tomson points out a compressor gear made by Machinist Inc. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

    LaBossier, of Machinists Inc., said his company will carry on that history, completing the customer contracts that were under way at Gear Works and seeking future work.

    "Our goal is to grow dramatically," LaBossier said.

    In addition to all the specialized, multimillion-dollar gear-making equipment, the Gear Works inventory included large mills and lathes that can be used for multiple machining projects.

    Jeff Tomson, head of marketing at Machinists Inc., said it hopes to use the new capacity to build manufacturing equipment for the Boeing 777X and hopefully the 797.

    For now, though, the Gear Works legacy will continue while missing a slice of its shop-floor expertise. It's expansion for Machinists Inc. but contraction for the Machinists union.

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    I speak with one of the ( old ) employees there fairly frequently. There was no notice. It was a blood bath and there are plenty of hard feelings to go around.

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    I used to be a member of the IAM.
    I really can't shit a tear for any union fuck that gets canned.
    Neil Young-Union Man - YouTube

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    I am going out on a limb here, but I'll bet money that Boing, and the military
    will have representatives at any meetings.

    A local supplier of larger forged parts for the navy has one in every ESOP meeting.

    To protect their interests.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zahnrad Kopf View Post
    I speak with one of the ( old ) employees there fairly frequently. There was no notice. It was a blood bath and there are plenty of hard feelings to go around.
    Management must calculate any penalties they have to pay for lack of notice is less than the cost of repairing the sabotage the disgruntled workers would do.

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    Missing from the article was the owner's ages. There comes a time when you get tired of fighting, and when you get tired of fighting its time to leave.

    As an acquantance's father said after a stressful month "If one more son-of-a-bitch with a badge comes through that door, I'm planting this whole place to trees". The fight doesn't have to be with the employees, it can be with the bank, customers, or government officials that view every business as a piggy bank ripe to be opened.

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    What those owners did at the Gear Company, is exactly what happens on Wall Street every time there is a major sell-off; some greedy corporate pigs decide its time to skim some cash off the top and go to their tropical paradise for a nice long vacation.

    Nothing new under the Sun really. I am still glad for the opportunity to invest in Wall Street and will take what little leftovers the greedy pigs leave me and hope it's enough for my later years and to leave something to my children.

    But I will NEVER pin my hopes and dreams on any corporation or entity. Work, save, invest and trust God. God is my rock, my fortress and deliverer, the One in whom I place my trust.

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    Clearly they had made a deal to sell the assets off before dropping the hammer. One would think this is to avoid liquidation for when everyone and their brother sues them. Typical underhanded corporate BS.

    As I tell my wife, you can divorce me, but half of $0 is $0 .

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    Maybe, Machinists Inc bought Gear Works and didn't want the union?

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    I guess that the sentiment is that owners are not allowed to retire, they must die while keeping jobs alive for others. Much like the pope?

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    Quote Originally Posted by joe miranda
    What those owners did at the Gear Company, is exactly what happens on Wall Street every time there is a major sell-off; some greedy corporate pigs decide its time to skim some cash off the top and go to their tropical paradise for a nice long vacation.
    Quote Originally Posted by zipfactor
    Clearly they had made a deal to sell the assets off before dropping the hammer. One would think this is to avoid liquidation for when everyone and their brother sues them. Typical underhanded corporate BS.
    OR...one might think it excellent planning on the part of the owners. How is it underhanded? Disposing of their property is their right, because they OWN it, and fuck a state law that says the union has to have months of notice so they have plenty of time to wreck everything. Of course they calculated they'd come out ahead doing it without notice.

    Wonder if when they were being organized, anybody thought ahead to possible consequences? I bet there was a lot of bragging in the local bars about how they sure showed those fat cats...

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    Quote Originally Posted by gerritv View Post
    I guess that the sentiment is that owners are not allowed to retire, they must die while keeping jobs alive for others. Much like the pope?
    WOW !

    There has to a more middle ground between what was done here, and "dying on the Job".

    I know of a company that is non-union, bought a similar company (union shop)
    and they kept them both as they are.

    What does the pope have to do with "Keeping jobs alive for others" ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by digger doug View Post
    There has to a more middle ground between what was done here, and "dying on the Job".
    Yes - the CEO/owner's son is defending the middle ground, on vacation. Probably a nice middle spot on the beach. Great optics. I only know what I read in the paper - is that what they call a "fly by night" trip?

    There is the presumption that all owners and operators agree to comply with the law and the contracts they sign. Some large contract bids also require agreement to comply with those laws.

    The classy thing to do would have been to keep paying the families after locking the doors, per the terms of the obligations.

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    I have done a lot of work for non-union and union shops and there is enough good and bad amongst them both to not be able to draw an absolute conclusion about either. Generally, unions are stronger in union towns and that typically (but not always) means higher cost / lower efficiency. I can see why the new owners didn't want to deal with the additional headache of a union if they had a productive and flourishing shop right next door without a union.

    The article is written by someone that is easily impressed - sure they make big gears and do a lot of what appears to be sophisticated work - but nothing that isn't done in lots of places around the US and the World. The gears they make aren't nearly as sophisticated or accurate as what I have seen down in Sunnyvale California (also done by union workers).

    Bottom line - if the owners want out and they want their machines in good operating order - union shops have a reputation of creating mayhem and destroying equipment on the way out so this was likely an asset value preservation move calculated to save more money than any fines might cost.

    I remember assisting a company with upgrading / relocating a bunch of paper converting equipment from a plant that was shutting down to another plant. Many of the embossers on tissue lines had coins tossed into them while running to destroy the engraved rolls . . . and a host of other costly damage was discovered when pressing the machines back into production once relocated. The 60 day notice given provided 2 months of creative mischief that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.

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    I had a good buddy who was a vice-president at a tier one supplier to GM. His position was that every Friday when the paychecks were handed out that settled things for that week on both accounts - neither party owed the other anything more than that - that's all that was promised and that's that.

    Yet, I see absolutely NO human decency whatever in telling people on Friday at quitting time that you are fired and don't show up for work on Monday 'cause we're closing the doors.

    I get that union workers are notorious for sabotage as an act of revenge. Nevertheless, those guys made you rich and I think that was just plain "shitty".

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    Quote Originally Posted by zipfactor View Post
    Clearly they had made a deal to sell the assets off before dropping the hammer. One would think this is to avoid liquidation for when everyone and their brother sues them. Typical underhanded corporate BS.

    As I tell my wife, you can divorce me, but half of $0 is $0

    .
    Hmmm, sure but I've read about some really nasty divorces where the wife was able to get some copious quantities of blood mixed with turnip juice from the ex-husband.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Dickman View Post
    I used to be a member of the IAM.
    I really can't shit a tear for any union fuck that gets canned.
    Neil Young-Union Man - YouTube
    Wonder what friends would be around if you hit hard times?

    As for the company in question, it's pretty much a crapshoot if the next generation(s) will do well with a company their father built. Could be it will now be in better hands.

    And in any case, automation will be taking more and more of these types of jobs. Big question facing all the developed world, with few answers yet found.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteM View Post
    And in any case, automation will be taking more and more of these types of jobs. Big question facing all the developed world, with few answers yet found.
    A bit of thread drift, but this is not just for the developed (industrial) world, but for every human on earth: Cucumber harvesting robot - YouTube

    We are close to having to ask: What is work? What are we to do when literally almost any job could be automated?

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteM View Post
    As for the company in question, it's pretty much a crapshoot if the next generation(s) will do well with a company their father built. Could be it will now be in better hands.
    I am fairly certain that the "sons" have been in the business since the early / mid-80's and were looking for an exit strategy while getting out was good. Sounds like they had a less than optimum relationship with the workforce - or - the buyer had written something like this into the purchase contract. Even so, they built on the company that their dad had started and likely were paid a pretty penny for it after being in the business for 30+ years.

    Clearly - the almighty buck was more important than any of the relationships between the owners and the rank and file workers and that is a sad commentary on our culture at large.

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